A Practical One Week Itinerary in El Salvador with Kids

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We just returned from a week trip to El Salvador and can’t wait to share all the magic this country has to offer with you.  There are so many things to do in El Salvador, it was hard to narrow it all down for a quick week trip. Here I will recap our one week itinerary in El Salvador with kids, sharing exactly what we did, where we stayed, ate and what we would change next time.

This trip was part of my yearly birthday travel tradition. This year however, I was joined by my friend Lindsay and her 10 year old son. They had never been to Central America and were looking for some warmth away from their cold and wet Vancouver winter! During our visit, we hit up the major spots on the coast and inland.  I can now see how visitors return again and again as there really is so much to see and do in this small Central American country.

Getting Around

Seeing murals on a one week itinerary in El Salvador with Kids
beautiful mural in El Zonte

Our initial plan was to take ‘chicken buses’ everywhere as they are cheap and they go all over the country. However, since our trip was quite short, I decided at the last minute to rent a car. I had seen on Instagram someone using a local rental car company. After researching prices of the major rental car brands, I decided to give the local company a try. There is nothing I dislike more than showing up to rent my car and being upsold on a million add-ons that they say I *have* to have!

So I booked our car through Eco Rent-a-Car. For cheaper than the major players, I was able to get the same car with everything we needed for our trip (insurance, etc). The car was delivered to us at the airport and picked up at departures when we left, making it super simple. Even when we were late to return the car and couldn’t fill it up, they easily took $20 to cover the gas we needed to replace. While it could have been a disaster trusting a local company and booking through WhatsApp, it all went well and if the price is right I would do it again!

Our One Week Itinerary in El Salvador with Kids

While I don’t quite think this is the perfect itinerary, for the amount of days we had, it was great. If we were to go again, I would add on a few days and add on a few other destinations since there is always more to see in the country.

Day 1: Arrival

We took a direct morning flight from from Los Angeles arriving around 4:3o pm. El Salvador is on the Central time zone, so we lost 2 hours getting there. Once we arrived, we went through immigration where we paid $12 for a tourist card. Kids under 18 are free, so it was just for the adults to pay. Thankfully they took credit card as we had heard that not many places in El Salvador would take credit cards.

After getting through immigration, we met our car rental. Their representative met us at the exit with a sign, which was great. After getting into our car, we set off for Pupusa town – Olocuilta which is about 15 minutes from the airport. 

First impressions – El Salvador felt easy to get around by car. The roads were clearly marked and other drivers followed the rules of the road (unlike in India!).


We were starving so didn’t take as much time to potter around here in Olocuilta as we probably should have. We opted for the place with the most reviews online and headed there. The prices were as we later found out a bit higher than at other pupusa shops, but it was still much cheaper than at home! Next time I would spend a bit more time walking around, checking out the MANY pupusa shops before selecting one to try!

That said, we had a good time figuring out all the different options and trying both the rice flour and corn flour varieties. It is only here in Olocuilta that you can get rice flour pupusas. Half of us liked the rice flour ones more while the rest of us preferred the more traditional corn flour. 

After getting our fill, we hopped in the car for our 50 minute drive to El Tunco for our hotel. 

Driving in El Salvador: Overall, the roads are pretty well marked and Google Maps did OK. I will say that Google doesn’t tell you which lane to be in and sometimes it doesn’t make the distinction between roads turning off or going straight. At one point it led us on a new highway with no option to return for quite a while! Pay attention closely when approaching intersections and don’t just blindly follow Google Maps. This is especially true in San Salvador where there are lots of roads going up and over. Plenty of roads are new and it feels like Google uses only satellite images rather than on the ground feedback. 

El Tunco

Courtyard of the Eco del Mar hotel

El Tunco is dubbed “Surf City” as this is a mecca for surfers. The town is just off the main coastal road, but feels miles away once you weave your way down narrow cobblestone streets. We made it to our hotel, Eco del Mar,that has only 4 rooms set around a small garden and small pool.

To be honest, I had such trouble figuring out where to stay in El Tunco. Many of the places were either very expensive or were shared bathroom hostels. It is definitely a beach town, geared more towards young budget backpackers.

I’m not sure I totally loved our place, but it was convenient, had free parking, an outdoor shower to wash off after the beach and was walking distance to everything. It also included a pretty decent breakfast, so in all honesty I probably would stay again as I didn’t see that many other places that looked much better!

Top tip: Book your stay direct with the hotel for the best price. Search Google Maps for hotel options, and then reach out directly. 

After getting settled into our rooms, we took a quick walk down to the beach and around the small town. This town has a bit of a party vibe, but it felt very quiet on a Monday night. There are a few bars, tons of restaurants (mostly empty!), small cafes and shops all over. At 8:30 p.m. most of them were already closed, but we got a sense of what is around. 

Day 2: El Tunco & El Zonte Beaches

El Tunco beach at low tide

Today we woke up around 7:30, had a desayuno típico (typical breakfast with eggs, beans, plantain and cheese) at our accomodation and then decided to take a walk around the town and to the beach. You quickly get the feeling how much this town is changing and progressing based on the amount of construction happening. I can see what a different place this will be before too long.

Overall I was surprised to see how rocky the beach is at El Tunco. I had read it was a rocky beach, but it was much more than I had anticipated. We walked along the beach for a bit, before coming upon a more sandy section where the kids played for a while, while we played with the drone.  

By 11 it was already baking hot, so we headed back to town and found a small ice pop stand. Things aren’t as cheap as we had anticipated – an ice pop was $3 but still totally doable and much needed for the heat. You can get a sense of the party town vibe though as they had ice pops with alcohol!

After cooling down, we decided to hit the coastal road and check out other beaches. Based on an IG post, we ventured up to this roadside restaurant El Perlita, which was good, but VERY expensive! A plate of 4 butterfly shrimp was $15, making our lunch as much as or more than it would be in LA. Even though this was a very local place, it wasn’t cheap. I don’t think I would go there again to be honest. 

El Zonte Beach

Last stop for the day, El Zonte beach. I just followed google maps, so we didn’t really know where we were going or which part of the beach was the best. We later learned there are 2 main entrances to El Zonte. The one we entered did not have much “town” around, so it felt very sleepy. We saw only a few hotels, but no independent shops or cafes except along the beach.

We just found our way to the beach and hung out for the day in front of the Olas Permanentes El Zonte. This beach gets eaten up by high tide, FYI. The kids played in the water all afternoon and we just hung out. It was perfect! As we were chilling here, we saw a family with kids taking surf lessons. We knew we needed to find a way to make this happen for our  kids.

Tacos at Mi Sazon in El Tunco

Returning back to El Tunco, we ventured around to find some dinner. In our walk, we happened across the Mi Sazon taco cart which advertised $1 tacos for Taco Tuesday. An order of just one each turned into an hour of ordering more and more. They were delicious and provided us a cheap tasting, filling dinner! The guy who runs this is from El Salvador originally, but has been living in the Bay Area with this business. He has come down the last 2 years to El Tunco trying his business here. I will say it is delicious and perfect for a night out.

After getting to our room, we realized we hadn’t had a pupusa today which was my birthday quest – eat a pupusa every day. My son and I headed back out to Esquina los Amigos which turned out to have AMAZING pupusas for $1 each. 

Observations: I met and chatted with so many Salvadorans who were there visiting with their family. Many of them had never felt safe to bring their children even if they had returned every year. Overall, there was a great sense of hope and excitement about the future that was so wonderful to hear. I really loved how friendly, open and helpful the locals were. Perhaps we were being charged more than locals, but at the same time, we never felt like we were being taken for a ride. Of course after a week we began to see price discrepancies in things like bottles of water, so now we know that we could have bargained a bit even in established shops!

Day 3: Surfing Lessons & Ruta de las Flores

After seeing the surfing lessons at the beach the day before, we decided to seek out a few options for our kids. Del Mar Surf School quoted us $45 each for 2 hours, which sounded great. Each child would have their own instructor which is what appealed most to my son who has always been nervous to try surfing in Los Angeles. We had planned to go with this company, but they had to cancel at the last minute, suggesting we go to Los 3 Hermanos. This company charged the same price but for only 1 hour. With no time to faff around, and really wanting our kids to get this opportunity we just went for it. I am sure if we had more time, we could have checked out more options. However, this seems to be the going rate as the place we had checked the day before also said $45 for one hour. Gone are the days of $10 lessons I believe, but still compared to what you get in the US, this is a bargain. 

The lessons went great. The instructors worked with the kids on the beach on their form for about 15-20 minutes before heading into the water. What my son loved the most was knowing his instructor was right at the end of his board telling him when to get on, and providing instructions like bending his knees etc. 

The kids really enjoyed this and would have loved to go again later in the day and another day if we had more time. This is why if we go again, I will add another night/day at the beach!

Ruta de las Flores

Slide at Cafe Albania

After returning to our hotel to wash off in the outside shower and change clothes, we headed out on our 2 hour drive to the Ruta de las Flores. Since we added on the surf lesson, we didn’t have as much time today to explore the various towns along the Route of Flowers. This will be something I will come back to do more of next time!

Some of the areas we drove past, but didn’t have time to stop included: Nahuizalco, Juayua (which is where the best pupusas in the country are supposed to be at Esmeralda!), Apeneca, Ataco and ending in Ahuachapan.

We made our way to Apeneca to the Instagram famous Cafe Albania. Normally this would not be something I would even put on my to do list, but once my son saw the IG videos of this adrenaline park, he said we had to go! 

Cafe Albania is essentially growing and growing due to its popularity on Instagram. What started as a place with a large labyrinth and a cafe has expanded to now have 2 huge rainbow slides, a small zipline, a bike zipline, a surfboard zipline, a butterfly swing and a drop swing. It was packed with foreigners which was kind of cool as you can really see the impact of social media has on places. 

For $40 my son opted to do ALL of the adventures. I paid for the few I wanted to do individually which was $10 for the two rainbow slides and $1 for the butterfly swing. In all we probably spent about 2-3 hours here. Many people seem to drive up for the day from either the beaches or San Salvador, but I am happy that our hotel was only a 15 minute drive away!

Casa Degraciella in Concepcion de Ataco

After getting our fill on adrenaline pumping activities we drove the 15 minutes to Ataco for our next 2 nights of accommodation. Again, I struggled to figure out where we should stay since many places are not really on booking sites and the prices felt quite high. If you can manage to just show up to town and choose a place, that is honestly one of the best ways to find options. Alternatively, search the town on Google Maps and look up each hotel and call to find out the rooms available as well as the prices. 

That said, our hotel was BEAUTIFUL! Yes it was more expensive than other options in town, but we had a door man, valet parking, a huge two room suite that had 2 twin beds in one room and a king size bed in the other. It also had 2 bathrooms and showers which felt like we each had our own little home. It was great for our last 2 nights and for my birthday. I would highly recommend it and would definitely consider staying another time.

After getting settled into our rooms, we headed a few streets over to Santa Fe Ataco restaurant which was slow, but great. I had a grilled chicken plate with vegetables and french fries for $8. 

Day 4: Santa Ana Volcano & Lake Coatepeque

One of the reasons I had planned two nights in Ataco was thinking it would be closer to the Santa Ana volcano that I wanted to hike on my birthday. Well, looks can be deceiving and in my haste to plan our last minute trip I didn’t map it out to see that it is actually almost as far as it would have been from the beach! Oops! 

In order to arrive for 7:30 a.m. we left at around 5:45. Our hotel was amazing though and made our breakfast super early, so at least we had a nice meal before we left. The drive was quick and easy, and especially beautiful as we watched the sun rise above the volcanoes on the horizon. Definitely a nice way to start my birthday!

The trail is rocky at times, but nothing that you need to use hands for!

I could write an entire post about hiking the Santa Ana volcano, but I will keep it brief here. Essentially, you need to have a guide to hike the volcano. There are group guides that depart around 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. once they have around 20 customers. These guides cost $3 per person.

Alternatively you can go with a private guide any time you wish. Since we wanted to avoid the heat of the day, we arrived at 7:30 a.m. There were already guides there waiting. We paid $10 per person which felt high to be honest, but considering it would be $3 with a group of 20 I felt OK with it. 

Viewpoint 2 on the Santa Ana hike

We left the parking area and walked for about 10 minutes up the path to the entrance to the park as well as the last bathroom stop. Here we were also told that we would need to pay $6 admission for the adults to the park. Kids 12 and under are free.

The hike isn’t too bad to be honest if you are in decent shape… which I am currently not! The total hike was around 5 miles and had several opportunities to stop at various viewpoints. Our guide had hiking poles for us to borrow which was helpful at times. 

The view up top was amazing and well worth the effort to get up there. During our time there we only saw people with individual guides, but as we started to make our way down around 10:30 or so we saw massive groups heading up.

Also, bring some cash for the ice pop seller. These homemade ice pops are great. (and in case you are worried we did not get sick from them!)

Lake Coatepeque

After our hike, we drove about 1 hour to Lake Coatepeque for lunch and to check out the lake. This is one of the things I would have changed on our itinerary- I would have stayed here one night to be closer to the volcano and to be able to just relax here at the lake for the rest of the day. Some other people also stay in Cerro Verde which is close to the volcano as well. 

We weren’t quite sure where to go, so we headed to Las Palmeras restaurant. This was a great spot as they had plenty of food, great views of the lake and even had opportunities to get out on the water. Lindsay took the kids out jet skiing, which they both loved. You can rent the jet ski for $30 for 30 minutes. We met some Salvadorian visitors who were quoted higher and felt it was too much, but again this is way cheaper than in the States so we went for it. 

Concepcion de Ataco

After a fun filled day of adventure, we made the drive back to Ataco for dinner. We cleaned up a bit and headed out in search of Tres Leches which is what I had wanted to get for my birthday sweet! It has been a long day, but we enjoyed pottering around the town a bit checking out the options around. I will say that all of these towns felt so empty. There are so many restaurants and shops, but for the most part we were the only people in most of them! Perhaps it is just a quiet time or these are just still not too busy.

Ataco is super cute though and I highly recommend staying here for at least a night to spend time adventuring around the town. Lots of beautiful murals, artisan shops and restaurants to check out. 

Day 5: Ataco & Santa Teresa Hot Springs

Desayuno Típico

This is our last full day in El Salvador and we still had a lot on our wish list. Sadly, we really needed another 2 days to make it a full week. We woke up, had our lovely breakfast at the hotel and then went shopping in town for fabric. My son was on the hunt for Salvadorian fabric to bring back for his sewing class. We found some immediately at this lovely shop called Axul Artesiana. This is a great stop for any souvenirs as everything is made my local artists. There is a small coffee shop attached as well as a courtyard where you can watch the local weavers make fabric.

Santa Teresa Hot Springs

Santa Teresa Hot Springs (a cold pool)

Next up is a visit to Santa Teresa Hot Springs. This was on my list for my birthday, but I am glad we saved this for our last day as it was a great way to relax and refresh before flying home.

Located about 20 minutes from Ataco, it is easy to reach. There is another hot spring right before this one, called Alicante, but they do not have a natural spa, which was something we wanted to check out. There is also another new complex being built right next to Santa Teresa Hot Springs, so there will be more options coming soon.

Anyway, entrance was $10 for adults and $5 for kids for as long as you wanted to stay. We were one of just a handful of people there when we arrived. There are quite a few pools all with different temperatures. It was a hot day out, so I wonder if they pump in more cool water? Either way, there were several cool pools and a few very hot pools. We sampled them all before venturing out to the Natural Spa which we had heard about.

Waiting for our mud to dry

Here you pay another $10 adults/$5 kids to experience a mud bath! We were instructed to go into the natural sauna that is basically a wooden shack on top of steaming fumaroles with eucalyptus branches laid around to add a nice scent. Here we sat for about 5 minutes opening up our pores. Next we lathered ourselves with the mud before letting it dry. Again we visited the sauna for 5 minutes. Now it is time to wash it off in a hot water pool.

There were some people there who were totally grossed out by it all, but we thought it was super fun and refreshing. 

Tips: Bring your own towel and clothes to change into. Remember to take your belongings with you to the natural spa as it’s a long way down a rocky road that can get very hot. 

What I Would Do Differently

If we had a little bit more time, I would have added one more day at the beach and added at least one night at Lake Coatepeque where we could have been closer to Santa Ana Volcano and had more time to chill at the lake.

If I had even one more day, I would have also stayed in Suchitoto which looks like an adorable colonial town well worth checking out. Overall this was a great introduction to El Salvador and showed us enough to want to return again!

Things to Note

  • El Salvador is not as cheap as you might expect.
  • Accommodation is expensive and if you eat anything other than pupusas it can also be pricey, even at local spots.
  • People are SUPER friendly and very helpful
  • English is not widely spoke, so come prepared to speak Spanish or have Google Translate ready
  • BitCoin is an official currently along with the US Dollar
  • WiFi is available, but quite slow in many places
  • Some hotels do not have hot water – especially near the beach, so ask if this is very important to you

We loved our trip and can’t wait to visit again. I am keeping my eyes open for those cheap flights from LA!

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